Climate Adaptation

Risk Management: Designers create learning environments that respond to the threats of a warming planet.
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Architectural Record
BY Joann Gonchar, FAIA

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain the difference between climate mitigation and climate adaptation.
  2. Discuss changing weather patterns linked to global warming.
  3. Describe construction and landscape strategies for making buildings more resistive to wildfires.
  4. Discuss the social and climate¬ adaptation goals of greening Parisian schoolyards.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia

IF SIMPLE observation hasn’t made it clear, the report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) this past August left little doubt: the earth is warming at an alarming rate. Even if mankind sharply cuts greenhouse emissions immediately—and quick action seems unlikely, given the outcome of the international climate summit in Glasgow in November—a hotter future is essentially assured, says the IPCC’s panel of scientists, convened by the United Nations. As the planet continues to warm, the report says, changes that are already happening to our climate—from more intense rainfall in some regions, to drought in others, to extreme heat in many—will escalate, further endangering ecosystems and human health.

The takeaway for architects is that they must do more than design buildings that mitigate climate change through measures to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions—they need to create buildings adapted to the impacts of global warming that will come or are already here.

A HILLTOP VILLAGE of simple volumes (top) replaces buildings on the Ojai Valley School’s Upper Campus, in Ventura County, California, destroyed in 2017 by the Thomas Fire (bottom).


Arguably, no typology is more important in this regard than schools, since they safeguard society’s most vulnerable. And when schools aren’t up to the climate and severe weather challenge, the continuity of education suffers—as it did after the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, when some K-12 schools in Puerto Rico were closed for up to 70 days. Then there is California, where school closures affected nearly 1.3 million students due to wildfires during the 2018–19 academic year.

Architects might not be able to anticipate exactly how a particular climate event or weather disaster might unfold, but they can design so that the impact is minimized and the likelihood that their buildings bounce back quickly is improved. Here, RECORD looks at three educational environments—a private school campus near the Southern California coast, a public high school in the Pacific Northwest, and a series of schoolyards in Paris. All are designed not only with resilience in mind, but also to enhance students’ everyday experience.

The threat of wildfire is more than academic for students at the Ojai Valley School (OVS), in Ventura County, California. One night in early December 2017, a blaze sparked by a fallen power line a day earlier ripped through the private K-12 school’s 195-acre Upper Campus, which is dramatically placed on a hillside, about seven miles away from the original, Lower Campus in the valley below. The conflagration would eventually spread to neighboring Santa Barbara County and scorch 280,000 acres before being contained several weeks later, making it then the largest wildfire in the state’s history. (Soberingly, a mere four years later, the fire has fallen to No. 8.) In just a few hours, it reduced two OVS midcentury timber structures—the girls’ dorm and a science center—to charred rubble. Luckily no one was injured.



Outdoor (top) and indoor (bottom) social spaces are interspersed throughout the 350,000-square-foot school, creating human-scaled environments.


ELEVATING the Mount Si High School in Washington State over a garage (top) protects it from floods. Outdoor (above) and indoor (bottom) social spaces are interspersed throughout the 350,000-square-foot school, creating human-scaled environments.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in January 2022